9/21/09

My kids don't watch TV and I'm not even a freak. Much.

Monday~September 21st, 2009


I don't walk around announcing the fact that Miles (4) and Asher (2) don't watch TV, but if the subject comes up, I answer honestly.

Even so, one doctor rolled his eyes and said, "Yeah right, Mom. He's an American child, I know he watches television."

I retorted with a high-pitched, "I unplugged them!" (Because that's a perfectly normal thing to say.)

He still didn't believe me.

Many of you know that we chose to "unplug" last spring. (We'll see how it goes in the depths of a frigid Minnesota winter, but for now we're sticking to it.)

You may also remember that the catalyst for this change was due to my inability to achieve the ever-elusive moderation I was striving for. Some mothers can do just that...moderate screen time. I am not one of them. So when I had a very helpful email conversation with my friend Debbie of Suburb Sanity months ago, and she mentioned that her kids were off TV/video games when they were small, something in me just clicked. It hit me that, for our family, it's an all or nothing kind of deal.

We went with nothing. Shut it off. Keep it off.

I was terrified.

So I'm relieved and maybe even excited to say that this whole unplugging thing is going very well. Even Miles, who asked can I watch a show at least 3,459 times in the first three days unplugged, is surprisingly totally cool with it now.

Before I go on, I must remind you that my blog is a guilt-free zone. Guilt has never served any other purpose for me personally than to keep me stuck in a rut, feeling all shameful and self-loathing and continuing a vicious cycle while I mope. Not good. So you aren't allowed to feel guilty either. If your kiddos are watching TV and playing video games, I don't judge that for a second. Are you kidding? That would just be silly. My boys used to watch way too much PBS and Disney channel while I walked around in circles not really getting anything done, so who am I to judge? (Besides, there are a number of other things I want to quit or start and have not succeeded, so please remember we're all on this bumpy parenting ride together, doing it differently, and that's OK.)

Alrighty then...what was I saying?

Oh yes. I was terrified, but instead of imploding, the boys absolutely blew my mind with their response to unplugging:

-They became more creative with their time in what seemed like an instant.
-They found other ways to self-soothe when tired, hurt, or bored.
-They started playing together in a way they never had before, making up new games and appearing to actually enjoy each other's company. (New for them.)
-And lastly, I became more willing to go on adventures and come up with new ideas for things to do. After all, what else could I do? This means I sacrifice more of my own screen time (ahem) than I used to, which is a good thing too.

I don't believe turning off the TV magically makes all of the above happen, but through our experience, I know that it helped.



September 20-September 26 is the second week each year that gives families a chance to do a trial run at turning off the TV for national Turnoff Week through the Center for Screen Time Awareness.

I am not going to tell you to give unplugging/cutting back a try just for this week and all that stuff. You'll do that if you feel like it's right for your family and the right time, you don't need my advice.

What I will tell you is that if you've been giving screen time some thought, wanting to unplug or cut back but feeling a little scared, think of me. If I can do it, you can do it. Believe me, self control is not my strong suit, yet somehow we're still doing this.

If you're looking for more information about the effects of screen time, you might really like this book:


The Case for Make Believe arrived in the mail the very week we unplugged. It helped me stick to our decision, and continues to be a good resource for me. Since I'm lacking in self control, I like to keep it out where I can see it.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to hook this book to a hat on my head, letting it dangle in front of my face this winter. We'll be cooped up, so I realize staying unplugged is going to be a lot harder than it was this summer. But we're going to give it our best shot, because it's working. For us. So it's good.

50 clicked right here to comment:

Billy Coffey said...

I'll admit that television is a problem in our home. We try to keep the kids away from it except for about an hour a day, but that doesn't always happen. Especially in the winter.

I'm gonna totally check out that book, too. Thanks for this post!

PsychMamma said...

We've been "unplugged" for about 4 years now. COMPLETELY unplugged from TV, as in, we never watch it. Really. And we don't miss it. AT ALL. We did watch some election stuff online (live-streaming), and do tune in for Presidential speeches online, but that's pretty much it.

J still has to do her feeding pump in the morning and we need her sitting quietly and still, so we go to the library and check out movies each week. Every day, she watches one hour of a kid's program of some sort (we shoot for educational, but it doesn't always happen)

Hubs and occasionally rent movies, but the most we watch is once a week. We stay up-to-date with current affairs/news via online news and newspapers.

It truly is amazing how little we miss it, and how quickly & easily that time gets filled with other stuff. I used to have it on ALL THE TIME in the background. The other day, I went to the doctor with J, and they had a TV on in the waiting room. I was surprised that I found the background "chatter" annoying and distracting. I was wishing to sit in quiet.

Maybe I am a freak....... Ha! At least I'm having fun, right?

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

You are NOT a freak and I am so proud of and inspired by you! Thanks for sharing your happy turnoff experience and for advocating Another Way to look at parenting.

I love your advocacy style, mama.

Susan Berlien (warmchocmilk) said...

Uh, could you spare the book for a week or two? I think I might need to read it. We limited TV time this summer, but at the end uf July Wes got a Nintendo DS. He's totally addicited! I need reminders of why I should shut it off. But I will say we implemented rules that he has to write his name and one other work before he plays a video game,....his writing has GREATLY improved in the last month and a half!
Seriously can I borrow the book. I'll give it back. You'll have time to dangle it from your nose this winter.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I'm going to throw the no-guilt clause right back at you and say -- if TV creeps back a little in the winter, it's OK. Winter is really long and difficult in Minnesota. So don't beat yourself up.

That said, this is really inspiring. We haven't unplugged, completely. But summer is certainly an easier time to leave the TV off and say, "Go out and play." And I've noticed a difference, for sure, with the decrease in screen time.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I'm bragging only to you about this because we had a conversation about it, but now that school started we have a NO TV on the weekdays policy. We don't even turn it on at all. By we, I mean the kids. Sometimes I turn it on after they're asleep at night, but hardly at all. They can still use their TV tickets on weekends only, and SO FAR this is working great. They've already almost completely stopped asking to watch anything and they anxiously look forward to Family movie night on Fridays. It's cool. Like you, not sure what the winter will bring, but one great side effect is that they're reading a lot more on their own, so I'm hoping that come winter, they'll be at a reading level where they can really start diving into some good books. Anyway, I'm with you girlfriend on this one and I'm pretty darn proud of myself.

Midwest Mommy said...

Ok, I am getting off the computer right now and turning the tv off, lol.

Manic Mother said...

We watch TV, more than we should, but its is my savior at times. But good for you, if we could get out more I would maybe consider doing the same....maybe.

Kazzy said...

Between our computers and our High Def TV we are definitely plugged in, but we did go four years unplugged when the kids were all little and my kids to read, etc during those years. I am all for it!

Heather of the EO said...

Manic Mother,
You know, I almost wrote something about unique situations, but the post was already toooo long.

But it's true. When Asher was a newborn and screamed for most of every day, the TV was there for Miles. Sad, but true. It just had to be that way, it was just so hard and I couldn't be to both of them what I needed to be. Maybe if we all had built-in support of some kind that would be different. But we don't, so we do what we gotta do sometimes.

Lara said...

I love it! I think that definitely the creativity and the playing together well came from not watching anymore.

This summer was AWFUL for us. Awfulawfulawfulawful. Trying to move, and get everything done was killing me, so I let my kids watch all freaking day long. Did I mention it was awful?

They fought like never before, they were always "bored" and so on and so forth.

Now that school started, I am back to our normal, which is no TV during the week. Only one movie on Friday night and a couple hours on Saturday after chores are finished. On Sunday they can watch religious movies a little bit.

Things are so much nicer around here. Kids are back to playing well together and being creative. And even reading.

Being unplugged is a good thing. :)

Judy Iverson said...

Heather... first let me say, I love reading your blog. You are a great writer. Second... good for you! We have been tv free for almost 8 years now. You remind me of our family. Your post the other day about ADD and you reminded of Eric, who has ADD. Which was one of the reasons we decided not to have a TV when we got married. He loves it too much and had no discipline to turn it off. Now, we are not computer free however. The kids do watch sesame street podcasts now and then, but its great because there is a beginning and an end. We don't miss TV at all. I feel more informed because I have to listen to the news and not just watch quick little sound bites.

As far as winter... embrace it! We do the children's and science museum a lot, and frankly the house gets a little more messy with painting and play doh. and you are right. It does take more effort and time on your part to be creative. But, it's so worth it! Congrats to you!

Wendi @ Every Day Miracles said...

Ughh.... okay trying hard to take to heart the "no guilt" thing. :) Honestly - when I saw what this post was about I ALMOST didn't click over here to read it... Because I knew guilt would likely assault me.

I do think this is great - and I grew up with no tv even in the house until I was about 12. It fostered alot of creativity in me and my 4 siblings.

I probably have it on too much - and I probably use the excuse that PBS is "educational" too much too...
Probably.

Corinne said...

We've unplugged here and there, and it makes a huge difference. I'm also very all or nothing... I can't take the whining about the tv, so it ends up being on, unfortunately.

But I think it's time to do it again. I just requested that book from the library, hopefully that will motivate us!

C @ Kid Things said...

We watch way, way more TV than we should. Along with computer and video games. If I try to limit their use now, I'm afraid I may be in for a fight. It's a good idea, though, and one I've actually been thinking about.

Boy Crazy said...

As a mama of little boys who has to endure frigid Wisconsin winters, may I share a winter suggestion? Set up an easel for painting. We kept ours set up next to the window in the livingroom all winter long last year, and because it was so accessible, the boys walked over and painted all the time.

We had a roll of paper attached so you could just tear off the painted part and pull a fresh section down. They wouldn't necessarily spend hours at the easel, but because it was always there beckoning (much like a TV), they often wandered over and picked up a paintbrush in between activities, when they were feeling bored, or while I made lunch or nursed the baby.

Really, it saved me from using the TV with them. This winter will be harder to pull it out though, because I have a 9 month crawler who would end up painting the entire living room....

Kathy B! said...

I think this is fantastic. We limit the kids to three shows, and I think it's a great thing to do. My kids are older though, and turning it off completely causes battles that I'd prefer to fight over more weighty issues...

Jen said...

I have thought about this. I think that we watch way to much TV but I am so scared. Not just because I don't know what to do with the kids but how am I suppose to live with out it?

Bonnie said...

I love the part about the kids finding other ways to soothe themselves because I do think we use tv for a lot of things.

My boys are pretty active so we really don't seem to have a problem balancing at the moment.

I will say when I was growing up we didn't have a tv in the house and I did a lot of reading. The down side would have been that I felt a little like an oddball at school because I never knew what the other kids were talking about as far as who was famous, popular shows..etc.

togetherforgood said...

Our kids aren't 100% unplugged, but most days they don't have screen time. They are 6 and 4 and a baby.

We notice definite behavior issues if we start letting them watch too much tv-- it is AMAZING. And I'm not talking about bad stuff-- I'm talking pbs kids and that's about it. I am proud of how creative my kids are, and I really think a lot of that comes from not spending a lot of time plugged in.

Kudos to you. :)

H-Mama said...

Great job, mom!!

We take it day by day. At the moment, we are finished with schoolwork and my girls are behind me, on my bed, using their imaginations with their Cinderella play set. I'm hearing things like...

"Sweetie, guess what? It's time to get inside... Pretend it was raining... Sweetie, I'm going to get into my pj's. Me too... Then the next day he was going to be Robin Hood... Then he was going to pay off his debt... Open the door in the name of the queen! Who's taking our money? Who wants to be Robin Hood?! We get paid a billion a week. I want to steal from the rich and give to the poor... Then pretend one day they were only stuck with ten dollars. Gasp!! But I was going to pay for a wedding!..."

They could literally go on (and on) like this for hours!! No TV is a good thing, but I completely understand the struggle. I better close now before I'm accused of using your blog as mine. ;)

Debbie said...

The next step you and I need to take is to talk/email/text more! I am missing you.

Grand Pooba said...

Kudos to you! Wow, not all mom's can do that you know, actually I know A LOT of mom's who use the TV as their babysitter. They wouldn't be able to get through their day without it!

Erin said...

Last year when I lived in Iowa, we lived above a single woman who worked from home came calling or knocking every time my children ran in the house. Which was constantly. Pretty soon, we were watching 5 or 6 hours a day because I didn't know what else to do (it was a particularly cold winter). I felt like the worst mother in the world.

Then we moved into our own house. And now we watch no more than one hour a day. I was so relieved to figure out that I wasn't a "bad mom," but that it was my situation. And my kids are so creative and can RUN all they want to!

Kori said...

We haven't watched TV for years; literally. We watch movies on occasion, and the kids each get limited time on the PC, and we haven't missed it a bit. We read, we listen to music, the kids (gasp!) play outside, and I never have to listen to "I want that for Christmas" or "I want THAT kind of cereal" or "what is erectile dysfunciont?" Really, it is a win-win scenario. I am so intolerant of stupidity in advertising that I also have a subscription to Satellite radio that I will never give up.

blueviolet said...

I am a person that doesn't do well with moderation either, but surprisingly, I did manage to do so with television for my kids. Mine were allowed to watch one hour a day and we planned it out beforehand. It was always Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street because there was educational value in those shows.

Like you, I highly value imagination and creative play so it was very important to me to nurture that in my children. I've never been a person who gets bored and my ideas of things to do with children are endless, so I had the time of my life right along with them.

Now I am looking forward to future grandchildren and all the fun we'll have.

Aidan Donnelley Rowley said...

Good for you. Seriously. The TV is on pretty much all day chez moi in part because I love the background noise and in part because my babes demand it. I am torn on this one. On the one hand, Toddler's vocabulary is insane and she (literally) knows the name of more species of animals than I do (thanks much, Diego!). But on the other hand, I do sometimes stop and think what those hours could be spent doing. I genuinely applaud your willingness to talk about your decision for your family while believably conveying that you are not judging different routes we parents might be taking.

"Bumping parenting ride" is right :)

Ann's Rants said...

I admire your decision. This is one I'm very torn on.

The kids watch mostly library DVD's. My five year old loves the computer.

I love the idea of it, but the reality might put me over the edge.

I'm teetering already...

♥georgie♥ said...

I too admire you and if I wasnt so dang addicted I would give it a go...of course the kiddos would probably gang up on me and duct tape my arms and legs and mouth...

I will say this...tonight 2 of my fav shows are season premiers I am not watching them...i am catchin up on blogs...thats a start eh?

The Rambler said...

Heather...it's so great you do this for your kids! My stepmother didn't allow tv at all, not even on weekends. Books and outside life (daily for Hawaii) became my entertainment. I don't get along with her (nice way of saying that) but am thankful for the interest I have in books.

I hope to give my daughter the same passion for books.

Btw...I have a watch tv addiction sometimes due to her restrictions...but their in spurts! This post helped me put things in perspective!

I always again love your blog!!

Carrie said...

This is great - thanks for sharing! My son watches Sesame Street in the morning so I can take a shower, otherwise he's such a mama's boy I would never get a shower. Um, yeah, and I also like to check my email then... :) But that's all the TV we watch, except the occasional special treat movie or Veggie Tales. :)

Octamom said...

I'm proud of you, Girl! You're doing what's best for your crew and I salute you!

Blessings!

Cynthia said...

You are wise to make that choice now. Our problem isn't that the kids sit in front of the tv for long stretches but rather that they leave it on for noise. I can't stand the Disney laugh track! I'll come in the room and no one is watching the show but it's ON.

My BIL instituted a 'no tv on school days' rule and it's working out well for them. I may have to give it a go.

Liz (Loving Mom 2 Boys) said...

This is fantastic - we are shutting off cable in a couple weeks and going TV free as well. Like you we just couldn't do the moderation - and whenever we do have long periods with no TV its amazing how well the boys do - I've actually noticed that they behave better when it is off - its like they are not trying to compete with the TV nor are they distracted by it.

Thanks for giving me another little nudge to actually go through with this and unplug!!

charrette said...

Our kids don't watch tv either (for the most part). We started this when they were very young. Because, like you, we value imagination, creative play, and time interacting. It is so very worth it to protect their childhood.

Dave said...

Congrats Heather. I, too, look forward to the day we can unplug :-)

Tooj said...

I think it's wonderful that you have done this. Being a guilt-free zone, I readily admit that we DO watch television, but I realized last night was the first night in weeks that I actually sat and watched. I don't allow myself to peek at any of the shows my friends talk about. I don't want yet another night-time distraction.

Because all three of my boys are in school from 7am+ through 3pm or 5pm+, with no television, I allow that "down time" at home. They typically get to relax and watch Noggin while I cook dinner. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. They have a Wii, but it doesn't get used everyday. We like watching Wipeout as a family on Wednesdays. :)

I've only heard good stories about those who unplug, but since this mama likes her football and basketball too much...it won't be happening in the Tooj house for awhile. Or ever. Ha!

Rebecca said...

I LOVE this post!

I had considered unplugging for a while, but instead limited the TV. Of course, my daughter asked for Noggin constantly.

The decision was made for us when James' pay got cut and we could no longer afford cable. We don't have a converter box yet, so no TV for us. We have a Netflix subscription, so once in a while I'll let the kids watch a movie on instant play.

That happened a couple of months ago, and I've noticed many of the same positive things with my kids that you have with yours. Lion doesn't even ask for the Wii much anymore, he would rather create.

I'm going to have to blog about this sometime too!

Blessed said...

We don't even have a TV - it makes it easier to stay unplugged. I waste enough time without having that entertainment box sitting in my living room... The book sounds really interesting, I think I need to go find a copy to read too.

Michelle said...

My kids had not watched TV for YEARS...and my little ones never. I remember buying my 3 year old shoes one day and her going ga-ga over Dora shoes. SHE'D NEVER seen it!!

Then we got satellite...and I'd let them watch a show here or there...and it became WAY too easy. We were always watching the TV. Pretty soon they knew the names of the shows and stuff. NOT GOOD, I thought.

Pretty soon my 3 year old was always bored if the TV was off...REALLY NOT GOOD. She used to play by herself all the time.

So we say, when it's a school day, no cartoons. Now she's fine with it but the first few days were a little rocky.

Life with Kaishon said...

Wow. What a totally great post! I am so glad I read this today. And thank you very much for the disclaimer about not feeling guilty! PHEW because I was just about to!

wonder woman said...

Holy crap. I've seen you around, but of course was too lazy to click over and see what you were all about. But I enjoyed your MMB post today, and came to see your little spot of the blog world.

It is a beautiful spot.

I of course was a fan of Mona, and now must figure out how to get her sent my way.

But this post about the TV? As my 3 y/o is watching Spiderman? And just as I started to feel guilty, you told me not to.

We definitely watch too much TV in the aMayzing household. More often than not it's just background to 2 little boys running around and playing together, but by mid-afternoon they're content to veg. We've done a lot of playing outside over the summer, but winter scares me.

I'm not sure if I'd be able to do all or nothing. But I could definitely have hours of the day where I unplug.

Kimberly said...

There's also an awesome book out there called Unplugged Play - luuuurve it.

Can't wait to get home so I can uplug again - you've inspired me!

april said...

I think unplugging is a great idea! The only time we watched TV as kids was Saturday morning cartoons, which is no longer. Good onya, friend.

L.T. Elliot said...

I'd like to try it. I hope I can manage it. =$

Christie Burnett said...

We're trying! Reduced-definitely, completely gone-not quite yet!

Thanks for the encouragement,
Christie

CC said...

We have a 30 minute tv rule. Because daddy needs his down time. BUT, the caveat is, that my son has to first read aloud for 30 minutes. Ha! No freebies around here....

kanishk said...

We watch TV, more than we should, but its is my savior at times. But good for you, if we could get out more I would maybe consider doing the same....maybe.

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jubilee said...

I can totally relate to the terrified portion of your post. We have reduced dramatically, but giving it up altogether . . . well, we are quite there yet.

It's great to be encouraged that other families are trying it too.

Anonymous said...

Hello!
I found this webpage while looking for more families who make do without a tv. Sorry if I crash the comments, but I have a problem and maybe someone here has some advice: Now that my five year old is in kindergarten, he is starting to be the odd one out, because he just doesn't know what to do with transformers, yugioh and other highly computer or tv based toys. His clasmates aren't interested in playing outside or with the toys my son enjoys. (Painting, Lego, electric trains, etc.) Anybody similar experiences? Any advice? Have thought about homeschooling, but my son is so social...
Thanks!

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